Every business needs protection against disruption – whether it’s an outage, a natural disaster or something man-made. But the goal of a disaster recovery plan is something called “business continuity,” which enables your business to operate as usual in the face of an outage or disaster.
Many people mistakenly use the terms disaster recovery and business continuity interchangeably. But there are important differences.
Disaster recovery does exactly what it says: It allows you to recover the data and applications you need to run your business in case your servers, your network or other aspects of your IT environment get damaged.
Business continuity, on the other hand, is the plan of action, processes and procedures that minimize or eliminate the downtime of essential business functions in case of a disaster or disruption.
So how can your business properly prepare a disaster recovery plan to ensure business continuity?
A Point-by-Point Comparison
You can think of disaster recovery as tactical and business continuity as more strategic. Disaster recovery refers to the data backup procedures you have in place: How often do you back up your data? Where do you store it (hopefully online, off premises or even both)? What technology solution(s) do you use to do this?
Business continuity, by contrast, concerns discussions about recovery time objectives (RTO), which is the desired time it will take your business to be operational again after a disaster or outage. According to IDC, 78% of small businesses have RTOs of less than four hours. Four hours is terribly ambitious.
For example, say a hurricane hits your business. When your servers go down, your disaster recovery solutions should kick in to ensure that no data is lost, and that you can safely retrieve your data from wherever you have stored it. Your business continuity plan, however, is more important. It involves knowing what you’ll do if it’s going to be hours – or even days – before power will be restored. Do you have a generator in the back room? Do you ask your employees to work from home? Do you move to a temporary office? How will you employees communicate? In other words, you have to think: What are all the things you need to do to keep your business’ doors – physical or virtual – open? It includes disaster recovery but goes much further.
As you can probably tell, you could throw a lot of money at business continuity. The trick is to find a balance between how much you are willing to pay and the tolerance you have for the risk of business downtime. According to IDC’s SMB Business Continuity Study 2015, the average cost of an hour’s downtime for small businesses (1–10 employees) was $8,220. The average cost for a medium-sized business (11–99 employees) was $10,790 per hour. For larger enterprises, that amount nearly doubled, to $25,600 an hour.
Compare those numbers against the fact that a full 79% of SMBs have had a major IT failure in the past two years, according to another study. Yet only 8% could recover from a major IT failure within an hour, and only 7% were very confident that they could recover operations within two hours.
How long could your business survive at such rates? That will determine how much you are willing to spend on business continuity.
According to IDC, 35% of SMBs don’t have a business continuity plan in place. Yet 81% of SMBs that do have business continuity solutions are considering improvements to their current strategies. A full 72% of SMBs worldwide expect to outlay additional investments in business continuity in the next 12–24 months. More than three quarters of them (76%) said downtime was their biggest motivation for adopting business continuity solutions.
Ensuring Business Continuity with Managed Services
Managed business continuity/disaster recovery services offer yet another way.
- All-encompassing – Managed services firms should provide a broad range of business continuity services, from basic disaster recovery to providing “hot” data centers to operate in should there be a regional catastrophe like Hurricane Katrina, to professional technicians to make sure the business keeps running.
- Simple – They should eliminate infrastructure and operational complexity so the small or mid-sized business can focus on its core business.
- Cost-effective – CapEx should be dramatically reduced, and the monthly fee should fit into an average small or mid-sized business’ budget.
- Cloud enabled – They should make full use of public and hybrid cloud technologies to find a business continuity plan that meets the needs of the SMB that keeps OpEx predictable.
For budgeting purposes, here is a range of fees for managed business continuity planning services for small firms: $200 to $1,500/month. For medium-sized firms: $600 to $3,500/month.
Managed services can give you the confidence that you have a business continuity plan, but without the often costly overhead associated with an in-house operation. But check out the vendors carefully, know exactly what their contractual obligations are in case of a disaster, put reasonable service-level agreements (SLAs) in place and regularly evaluate your managed services firm to ensure you are getting the best value for your money.
What You Can Do to Protect Your Business
You may be backing up all your files. You might be confident that you won’t lose any data in case of a disaster. But that doesn’t mean you won’t lose tens of thousands of dollars because your business couldn’t function while you were recovering from that disaster. Business continuity planning is essential to the long-term viability of your business.
Phase your disaster recovery plan by applying business continuity planning. Build the phases from immediate mission critical functions and resources through low-level needs that you can live without. For example, protection of patient data will be a top priority for healthcare providers and their partner companies to maintain government compliance, whereas insuring that all the copy machines are up and running may be a secondary concern. This approach will also allow you to spread out the financial impact of a disaster over an extended period of time, helping you to sustain an even cash flow.